What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?
While the direct cause of RA is unknown, here's what we do know: First, you may be more likely to experience RA if it's part of your family's medical history. Second, RA symptoms begin when your immune system (the body's natural defense system) attacks healthy cells in your body, for reasons we do not yet understand.
Normally, the immune system protects your body from bacteria, viruses, or other foreign agents. When you have RA, your immune system incorrectly targets the linings of your joints. This causes uncontrolled inflammation—leading to the symptoms and potential joint damage usually experienced with RA.
Who gets RA?
RA can affect men and women but it affects more women than men. RA also:
- Affects more than 1.3 million Americans
- Is one of the most common forms of arthritis
- Can develop at any age, though it commonly begins between the ages of 30 and 50
Symptoms and diagnosis
If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of RA, talk to a rheumatologist as soon as possible. Common symptoms of RA include:
- Joint stiffness
- Joint pain
- Morning stiffness that lasts longer than 30 minutes
Other potential symptoms of RA:
- Loss of energy (fatigue)
- Loss of appetite
Only a rheumatologist can determine if your symptoms are being caused by RA. Rheumatologists are specialist doctors who treat arthritis conditions and other joint diseases.
To make a diagnosis, your rheumatologist may look at the following:
- Pattern of symptoms
- Complete health history
- X-rays and lab tests
- Physical exam results
A thorough physical exam is necessary to complete your diagnosis. During your physical exam, your rheumatologist may:
- Look at swollen and tender joints to assess your condition
- Conduct a lab test to screen for an antibody found in the blood of approximately 80% of people with RA